Women Leaders Sign Letter to Gov. Cuomo and Legislature Urging Reform
This week, more than 160 women business, philanthropic and political leaders signed onto a letter to New York’s legislative leaders and governor, encouraging them to enact comprehensive campaign finance reform with publicly funded elections. “For women in particular, this kind of reform is vital to participation in politics,” the letter stated. Women comprise merely 18 and 25 percent of the seats in the New York State Senate and Assembly, respectively. By contrast, in five out of the six states with publicly funded legislative elections, women constitute a higher percentage of legislators than the national average. In those five states, the percentage of female legislators is at least 8 percent higher than in New York. Former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner and Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice were just some of the signatories on the letter. Read more…
Women Leaders Sign Letter to Gov. Cuomo and Legislature Urging Reform
Under Governor Cuomo, New York State has taken some important steps towards making the state budget more transparent, perhaps among the most transparent anywhere. The governor’s Division of the Budget’s NY Open Budget website includes detailed, downloadable spreadsheets of enacted budgets going back until the early 1990′s. (By comparison, the New York City budget is not available in a machine readable format.)
Importantly, the Division of Budget has also taken the welcome step of including a downloadable spreadsheet of all but one of the 200 tables included in the governor’s proposed 428 page Executive Budget. Kudos to DOB for doing this – including machine-readable versions of the tabular data powering PDF narrative documents is a transparency best practice that we rarely see.
This said, the one data set missing from the 200 machine readable tables is a really important one. The Executive Budget should really include machine-readable School Aid Runs. This is a detailed list of the $21B in state aid the governor proposes giving to each school district, and amounts to about 15% of the entire $141B state budget.
We emailed the State Education Department, and they immediately emailed back the FY 14/15 proposed School Aid Runs in an excel format, which you can download here. We’ve asked the governor’s office to include School Aid Runs with the rest of the Executive Budget Data, and we’re optimistic they’ll do so in future budgets.
NYPIRG’s Blair Horner has been battling legal and illegal corruption in Albany for decades. In this thoughtful post he outlines why this state budget is a truly rare opportunity to major reforms in the campaign finance system, and to radically change Albany’s entrenched culture of pay to play politics:
Lawmakers return to the Capitol this week to tackle the big issue of the session: approving a state budget. As part of that $140 billion plus decision, lawmakers will be forced to also debate a key issue: reforming the state’s campaign finance and ethics laws.
For at least 30 years, New York governors have called for sweeping campaign finance reforms. New York has the highest campaign contributions of any state with limits. Its disclosure requirements are weak and its enforcement essentially non-existent.
But for all that talk, Governors Mario Cuomo, George Pataki, Eliot Spitzer and David Paterson achieved virtually no reforms. Lots of talk, no real action.
Last week, Reinvent Albany was invited to testify to the Committee on Rules of the New York City Council, “regarding the use of technology to make city council more responsive, transparent, and effective.” The text of our statement is provided below; click here for a copy of our testimony.
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Good Afternoon, and thank you Chairman Lander and Councilmember Kallos for holding this timely hearing, and for convening this panel. My name is John Kaehny, and I am testifying today on behalf of Reinvent Albany, where I am executive director, and also co-chair the NYC Transparency Working Group.
The question posed to our panel is how to use technology to help make City Council more responsive, transparent, and effective. Councilmember Kallos and my colleagues on the panel have created a list of excellent recommendations that cover a wide range of the council’s activities. I will focus on three basic points.
1. Recurring Reform Hearings
This hearing – which is a great thing – should be the first installment of a permanent, public effort by the Council to continuously improve itself. The model here is the NYC Campaign Finance Board which convenes public hearings and expert panels after every election cycle to assess its own performance and seek public input. This public self-assessment increases confidence in CFB, and ensures that the leadership there is exposed to both criticism and new opportunities.
Council can do even better by conducting these “reform” hearings annually, and by accompanying the hearings with a timely report summarizing the recommendations, criticism, and next steps. In other words: these hundred things were recommended, and this year council will do the following ten of them.
2. Mobile Working Group
The Council Speaker and central staff should convene a working group on Mobile and Text First technology which includes interested members and their staff. Within a few months the group should issue specific recommendations for tools that council can use to better communicate, engage and inform via mobile and two-way text message. Today’s digital divide is more about the devices New Yorkers use to access the Internet than it is about access to broadband at home.
Public surveys overwhelmingly reveal that most working class, low income, and young people use a smartphone to access the Internet. Some use a feature phone equipped for texting. (In other words, the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers don’t connect to the Internet via a computer.) So, the question for council is how it should be communicating with, and providing information to this great majority of New Yorkers in the mobile age?
3. Public Technology Plan
The council and central staff should adopt a public technology plan, put it online, and keep it updated. Simply put, the council should explain to members, staff, and the public what it is doing, what it plans to do, and some of the thinking behind its technology initiatives. This is especially important if council is adopting a raft of new tech tools and initiatives. Currently the public, and many members, have no idea what the plan is, and what new tools they can expect to see. This is a simple matter of accountability both to the public and to members.
The pace of technological change is accelerating with every passing day. So, rather than recommend specific tools, we recommend some processes for harnessing that change in manageable way. Thank you.
Moreland Commission Co-chairs: Pass Election Reforms
In a Daily News op-ed on Sunday, two of the co-chairs of the Moreland Commission to Investigate Public Corruption explained why they recommended public financing as a solution to the persistent problem of pay-to-play politics in Albany. Kathleen Rice, the district attorney of Nassau County, and William Fitzpatrick, the district attorney of Onondaga County, were among a number of legal experts and district attorneys tasked with examining the state of New York’s corruption and campaign laws. What the commission uncovered was not only illegal acts, but numerous “legal activities that would shake anyone’s trust in our government.” As Rice and Fitzpatrick explained, “Unfortunately, there is nothing illegal about donating $100,000 to a politician’s reelection committee, then receiving millions in the form of a helpful tax break in a spending bill.” However this year offers a unique opportunity to end the corruption scandals in Albany, and return state government back into the hands of citizens. “Imagine how much good the government could do if our elected leaders had built-in incentives to spend more time talking to and serving their constituents rather than doing the bidding of well-connected donors?” Such a system is a real possibility—Governor Cuomo has included a holistic package of reforms recommended by the commission in his budget proposal. The only question that remains now is whether the governor and the legislature will pass it. Read more…